Crossing the outback: Queensland to the Northern Territory

After our lovely tropical beach, rainforest, and lush waterfall experiences, it was time to head off on our long journey to Darwin. It was pretty exciting, neither of us had been to the NT before, however, the excitement only lasts so long when you have two-four days of driving ahead of you. In saying that, it was a really cool experience watching the landscape change and it just solidifies my amazement at the variation of the landscape in our country. Not to mention the sheer size of this place!

We set off early in the mornings to try and beat some of the heat. We were really starting to feel it now as we sat in the van for 8 hours a day with the sun beating in on us. We took the Savannah route (which is above the main one which goes from Townsville) with the plan of heading south to the main road at Normantown, after which the road becomes a bit dubious if you don’t have a 4WD. We saw THREE emus on our first day of travel. I’ve only ever seen one in the wild before, these guys are crazy prehistoric looking birds. They kind of camouflage against the landscape, huh?

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Our first main stop was Georgetown, where we got a new tyre to replace a balding one. Then we drove all the way across to Normantown, where we snapped a shot with this ‘big’ thing…an apparent replica of the largest crocodile ever caught in the area. Look at the size of that thing! Crazy!

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Georgetown had not just one but TWO big things, so we were grab another snap before we headed south. Yep, it’s a big barramundi.

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We headed as far as we could before the sun got too low (and all the little wallabies started to emerge by the side of the road) and stayed overnight at the Bang Bang rest stop. You can find street art in the strangest of places…

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The following day, this happened to our tyre (not the new one, thank goodness).

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I’ve never burst a tyre QUITE as bad as this before. Thankfully we had a spare to get us into Cloncurry where we could pick up another. We went a little further to Mt Isa and set up camp, as we had some other car issues that we had to attend to. This being our last stop in Queensland, I realised that I was yet to drink a XXXX beer (THE beer of Queensland), so we quickly remedied that. There is actually something to be said for drinking mid-strength beers in hot climates, that’s for sure.

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The next day was back to outback driving. The scenery doesn’t change much for long stretches, so you get kind of excited when you see something like this.

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I know…wild, right?

Oh, this one time we also got surrounded by cows.

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FINALLY, we made it to the border. WAHOO!!

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Then it was pretty much back to outback driving, with a roadhouse punctuating the trip every few hundred kms. One of them, smack bang in the middle of nowhere, had about four peacocks. Again, the things you see….

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We found a rest stop just in time for sunset, and got to watch the sun go down on central Australia. It was pretty cool.

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The next day it was all systems go. We were kind of tired of driving and being in the middle of nowhere, so we were on a mission. We had a kind of interesting drive, as coming the other way were all these solar cars for the world solar races. Some of them were crazy, they looked like little space ships. The poor drivers, it was about 40 degrees and they didn’t have any air con in those tiny little bubbles. They would have been ROASTING.

Finally, we hit Mataranka where we were blessed to find the thermal springs. We melted into the water and floated around for an hour or so, which really revived our bodies and spirits. It is not easy driving for days in 35-42 degree heat (with no showers). There’s definitely nothing glamorous about this lifestyle (but it’s rad fun!)

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And with that, I’ll leave this picture heavy post there. I’ve got plenty more to add, so I’ll try and sneak another one in tonight while I still have reception. We’re actually in W.A. now, so I’ve got a bit of a backlog to get us up to speed…I’ll see how I go.

Can’t eat coal, can’t drink gas

Okay, so this is going to be a bit of a biggie. It’s jam packed with photos, so it may take a little while to load, but please stick it out and read on.

After the Abbey Festival, we got dropped back in Main Arm where we’d left ZZ, only to make the decision to turn around and drive back to Queensland the following day with our HelpX host to camp out at an anti-coal seam gas blockade. We stocked up on supplies, grabbed some gumboots and spent the whole next day driving up to Tara, which is a small town about 280km west of Brisbane.

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At this stage, I feel that I only know the very basics of what there is to know about coal seam gas mining, and I am trying to educate myself as much as possible about this important issue. But for the time being, I’d like to share some of what I know. Coal seam gas is a type of unconventional gas (requiring specialised techniques for extraction of commercial quantities), comprising mostly methane. The practice of mining CSG involves drilling wells into the ground in order to release the gas from underground coal seams (usually between 300-1000m below the surface). Coal seams consist of water as well as gas, and it is the water pressure which holds the methane in the seam. In order to release the gas, the water must be pumped to the surface to depressurise the coal seam. This salty water can contain heavy metals, and toxic and radioactive compounds, and there is currently no appropriate and safe disposal method for it, so it is instead stored in massive open air evaporation ponds (or holding ponds), which are lined with builders plastic, before being transported to a treatment facility. Yeah, I know….sounds safe. While this practice has been banned for all future operations due to the risks involved (overflowing during rain, poor lining allowing seepage into soil), any current ones are still able to use them (and still do). Birds have been sighted swimming in these ponds, and a while back there was an article about a kangaroo having to be euthanised after becoming trapped inside one. The following image was sourced from www.news-mail.com.au

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If the gas does not flow freely on its own, a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is used to stimulate the extraction process. Fracking is when a mixture of sand, water and chemicals is injected at high pressure into a well, causing fractures in the coal seam and allowing the gas to flow to the surface. Many of the chemicals used are potentially very dangerous, yet they have not been thoroughly tested for their effects. Not only that, but in Australia there is currently no requirement for gas companies to divulge which chemicals they are using as a part of the fracking process. While in the US, over 750 chemicals and compounds have been identified as being used in fracking, only 20 have been confirmed by the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association as being used here in Australia. The use of some volatile organic compounds like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene has been banned in New South Wales and Queensland, however, these compounds occur naturally and can be released in the fracking process. Fracking has been linked to some bad shit, including water contamination and earthquakes, and some countries such as Bulgaria and France have banned it due to environmental concerns.

Other extremely worrying concerns about CSG mining include the loss of agricultural land and native forests (and the potential this has to impact on our food supply); the potential contamination and depletion of water systems and supplies; air, water and soil pollution and the ramifications for human and animal health; leaking of methane from wells and pipelines and off-gassing of compounds from holding ponds and compressor stations. All these factors that affect the future of our country, just so that something crazy like 80% of the gas extracted can be sold overseas. This is an aerial view of the gas fields in Tara (sourced from csgfreenorthernrivers.org). Keep in mind that this is in its ‘early stages’.
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At the moment there are around 4000 wells in Queensland, but there are up to 40,000 wells planned for the state by 2030. Can you imagine what that might look like?

What is very alarming and upsetting about this whole situation is that lack of foresight from our government, who are so focused on the short-term monetary gain that they are willing to risk the future of our land, water and people. I don’t want to live in a gas field, I don’t want my children to live in a gas field. Hell, I don’t want anyone to live in a gas field! That’s why we need to say enough is enough, before it goes any further.

While in Tara we met many incredible people who came together to make a stand against CSG mining, and our time spent there has certainly inspired and left a great impact on us. The kindness and warmth we met from complete strangers was really something special. Not only that, we had heaps of fun too (all within the framework of peaceful, non-violent protest/civil disobedience). The more you learn about what is happening in our country and in our world, the less you are willing to sit back and passively let it happen. And with that, I’ll leave you with a whole bunch of photos from our couple of weeks in Tara.

If you would like to learn more about CSG mining, try checking out some documentaries on youtube, or starting with some of these websites which give a good, simplified overview;

Lock the Gate
Stop CSG
CSG free Northern Rivers
ABC
SBS 

Shots from blockading
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Kumbarilla state ‘forest’

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Shots from the Saturday march

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Puppy-sitting!

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 Mission to see the methane bubbling out of the Condamine River

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Some panels in the QGC Information Centre describing the wonderful work they are apparently doing

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QGC: Queensland’s Greatest Cyclists

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The Abbey Medieval Festival

Early last month, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to go along to the Abbey Medieval Festival, in Caboolture – not far north of Brisbane. We met a lady in Main Arm through our Helpx hosts who needed help with setting up and packing down a henna stall and campsite, and was offering tickets to the festival in return, so we jumped at the chance. Both of us have wanted to go to a renaissance style festival for years now, and the Abbey festival happened to be the biggest of its kind in Australia! We found out we were going the night before it happened, so we had to throw together some costumes last minute. Billy fashioned some brown sheets and cord into a peasant outfit, and I managed to find some gypsy-ish clothes in my little wardrobe. We made the five or so hour drive on Friday, and Billy and I crossed the border to Queensland for the very first time!

We were only required on Friday night to set up the stall and Sunday afternoon to pack it down, so the rest of the time we got to wander around and enjoy ourselves. It was such an awesome festival, and we had a great time so I just wanted to share some photos from our time there (warning: this post will be quite picture heavy). One thing that was pretty special about the festival was how nice everybody was – it had such a good vibe, with plenty of kids and families running around. It was very cool.

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This was before we left, when I was a guinea pig for some henna practicing. It turned out beautifully, but because the ink was a bit old it didn’t set into the skin very well and only lasted until the end of the week.

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The cute little stall we set up.

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Some guys doing a very theatrical fencing reenactment.

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One of the two local taverns. Here you could get a meal, some mead, cider or beer. In the evenings when the festival was closed to the public, all the workers, reenactors and volunteers could go in for a drink, and there would be people playing folk songs by the fire.

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Some roaming musicians. No idea what that box thing the guy in blue is playing is.

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The opening ceremony. The sound from this cannon was INSANE. It scared the bejeesus out of Billy, which I caught on video…hehe. Throughout the weekend, the cannon would continue to go off at random times, with no warning. By the end you ALMOST got used to it.

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A tiny silver knight.

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One of the many battles we saw over the course of the weekend. We saw swords, shields, axes, spears. We saw one on one, groups of 5-10, and then some like this – a full field, all in battle, with teams of about 20-30 each. It was very entertaining, and it was easy to get caught up in the oooohs, ahhhhs, and YEAHHHHHHs!

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These are the ladies from the Shuvani Romani Kumpania (Gypsies!), doing circle dancing. They were my favourite of all the groups…each group had their own little camp, with demonstrations of particular customs of the time, such as archery bow making, chainmail making, the types of foods eaten, clothes worn, etc. There were groups such as the Nordic Society and the 15th Century society. The Shuvani Romani Kumpania were definitely the loudest and the most colourful (and the best dressed!)

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Peasant Billy stuck in a pillory.

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The lovely ladies from the Henna stall, taking a brief moment for a picture in between the madness.

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Billy getting the once over from a leper.

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The Gypsy camp!

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Billy buying sweets from an old lady. They weren’t very good, but maybe sweets weren’t back in medieval times.

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This dude was pretty amazing. He had built this bear warrior suit himself. He must have been sooo hot walking around in it – and he was in it ALL day.

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Some dork in front of the Henna stall.

And that’s about it! I’m so stoked to have finally sent this post out to the interweb! It won’t be long before I’m all up to date again. Until then…

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